By Tyler Rossi for CoinWeek …..
As with during World War I, the United States Mint played a vital role in supporting the Allied powers throughout World War II. Through the 1874 Act of Congress authorizing the production of foreign coins, the Mint was able to supply 26 countries across the globe: Australia, the Belgian Congo, Belgium, Bolivia, Cuba, Curaçao, the Dutch East Indies, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Fiji, France, French Indochina, Greenland, Guatemala, Honduras, Liberia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Surinam, and Venezuela.
Of these, five were either colonies and do not exist anymore or have since changed their name.
In addition to the combined issuance of 12,308,856,171 coins struck by all three branch mints (San Francisco, Denver, and Philadelphia) for domestic use between 1939 and 1945, the mints struck 3,329,779,508 coins for foreign use – the majority of which were struck either at the Philadelphia or San Francisco facilities. In regards to foreign coinage, the Denver Mint struck coins only for Australia in 1942 and 1943, the Dutch East indies in 1943 and 1945, Ecuador in 1944, the Philippines and Curaçao in both 1944 and 1945, and Venezuela in 1945. All of these coins were struck at cost for the recipient countries, of which many also provided the needed metal. In fact, during this period, the Mint used over 15,000 tons of metal on average per year!
All of these countries were suffering the direct and indirect economic effects of the war. Some, like Belgium and the Philippines, had been invaded and suffered extensive physical damage, while others had to host a large number of troops or underwent a massive expansion of industrial war production. Regardless, there was a sudden and growing need for coinage that coincided with a lack of ability to fulfill that need.
Since it would take too long to list every coin struck for every nation, this article will highlight a few interesting and representative types to review.
The Dutch (Netherlands) East Indies
Over the six years from 1939 to 1945, 1,442,361,000 coins went to the Dutch East Indies. As the country that received the most coinage, the Dutch East Indies poses an interesting case study.
When Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940, Queen Wilhelmina was forced to flee to London, and, due to the occupation, the Royal Dutch Mint was unable to strike any coins. A year later, the Dutch Government-in-exile contracted with the US Mint to strike coins for the island colony. Over the next two years (1941 and 1942), the Denver Mint Struck 72 million 25-cent coins (1/4 guilder), 175 million 10-cent coins (1/10 guilder), and 100 million one-cent coins. The obverse of these coins shows the crowned Dutch coat of arms dividing the denomination with the date below and legend NEDERL INDIE above. The reverses display an Arabic inscription contained within a sunbeam design.
However, by March 9, 1942, the Japanese had successfully occupied the entire Indonesian archipelago. As a result, part of the year’s production would not be delivered. Yet, in 1943, the Denver Mint continued production and struck a total of 20 million silver 1 Gulden, two million 2-1/2 Gulden, and two million 2 ½ cent coins in the hopes that they could be put into circulation after the colony’s liberation. Unlike the smaller denomination coins, these larger pieces depict Queen Wilhelmina on the obverse and the crowned coat of arms on the reverse.
Despite military advances and the recapture of significant areas in New Guinea, Maluku, and Borneo, no coins were struck for the Dutch East Indies during 1944. However, swinging back into action during 1945, the Mint struck nearly just over 1,071,000,000 coins. The 1945 issuance was split between the 25, 10, 2 ½, 1, and ½ cent denominations. Below is an interesting one-cent error coin struck on a Lincoln cent planchet by the Philadelphia Mint. The Dutch East Indies cent coin was supposed to be holed, as can be seen with the off-center circle in the design. While the planchet of the host coin was too small by just under 4mm, and a portion of the obverse legend is lost, the original design would include a Palm Tree privy mark to differentiate the colonial coinage from that of the home nation.
When the Japanese surrendered on August 15, 1945, the Indonesian revolutionary hero Sukarno declared independence from all foreign powers and embarked on a four-year war of independence and there was little need for such large quantities of coinage.
Another country that ordered coins from the Philadelphia Mint during the war was Saudi Arabia. Despite striking a total of 47 million silver 1 riyal coins during 1944 and 1945, the more interesting are the so-called Aramco Gold Discs. While not a true “coin”, these pieces were equivalent in value and gold content to the $20 gold double eagle. 91,210 of these discs were struck for the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) to pay the Saudi Royal Government the $3 million a year it owed in oil royalties. The obverse depicts the heraldic US eagle, the legend U. S. Mint, Philadelphia, USA and, on the reverse, a three-line description of the fineness and weight.
These discs are the only gold coins struck by the US Mint for foreign countries during the entire war. More can be read on these truly fascinating pieces here.
In 1945, the Philadelphia Mint worked in conjunction with the French Committee of Liberation and the Chief Engraver of the Paris Mint Lucien Bazor to design and strike a coin specifically to be used by Allied forces during the invasion of Southern France and French Algeria. A total of 50 million pieces were struck in brass that had been reclaimed from spent munition shells. Not only are these temporary Francs testament to the economic necessities faced by the Allied armed forces but they also point to the strained relations between French Resistance leader Charles De Gaulle and Western leaders. As such, the design is highly illuminating.
The obverse is quite simple, with FRANCE surrounded by a wreath. The wreath is actually the same one that appears on the US Indian Head cent. The simple legend was chosen over “Vichy État Français” due to not wanting to be associated with the puppet state. President Franklin D. Roosevelt also prevented “République Française” from being used, out of concern for retaining what remained of French sovereignty. Meanwhile, the reverse depicted the traditional French motto of “Liberté – Egalité – Fraternité” surrounding the denomination.
Despite the widespread use of these coins in Southern France, De Gaulle did not appreciate Allied meddling in the French monetary system and this was the only coin struck for France by the Allies.
At the start of the war, thousands of US servicemen were sent to Greenland. At the time, the island had a small population of 18,000 indigenous people and fewer than 500 Danes. When local coinage began to disappear, the US Mint struck 100,000 5 Kroner coins. The obverse depicts the standard Danish royal coat of arms surrounded by the legend GRØNLANDS STYRELSE, which is the name of the country’s government. Designed by Chief Engraver of the US Mint Gilroy Roberts, the reverse shows a polar bear with the denomination above and the date below, split by a GS. Because Greenland was technically still controlled by Denmark, the obverse is copying contemporary Danish coin designs. Since in 1944 one Danish Kroner was worth approximately 20 US cents, this coin was equivalent to $1.
Belgium and the Belgian Congo
In 1944, the Philadelphia Mint also struck 25 million 2-franc coins for Belgium, using blank 1943 steel Lincoln cent planchets. As an Allied Occupation issue, these coins were issued to US troops as early as September 1944 for use in liberated Belgium. This issue is connected to two error coins, both off-metal types. More commonly known is the US 1944 steel Lincoln cent. This is because the Mint used the 1943 steel planchets for this coin. It is believed that some blanks made their way between the Lincoln cent dies. Additionally, an unknown quantity of 2 Franc coins were struck on Dutch silver 25 cent blanks.
The year prior, the Philadelphia Mint also struck 25 million francs, this time for the Belgian Congo, which was run as a private colony, personally owned by King Leopold II. A hexagonal coin, these were likely struck in recycled bronze like the 1944 French 2 Franc.
This piece presents one of the largest design errors of any coin designed by the US Mint. Depicting a simple elephant above the date as the obverse design, the reverse is simply the denomination -2 FR- surrounded by the legend Bank of Congo translated into both Dutch and French. The Dutch legend BANK VAN BELGISH CONGO was missing the “C” in BELGISCH. Immediately after this mintage was released, all future orders for hexagonal coins with the US Mint were canceled, to be replaced by a round version struck by the South African Pretoria Mint in 1946 and 1947.
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Mint press release, 1945 – https://www.usmint.gov/learn/history/historical-documents/wartime-contribution-to-foreign-coinage
Domestic and foreign coins manufactured by mints of the United state, 1981 –
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About the Author
Tyler Rossi is currently a graduate student at Brandeis University’s Heller School of Social Policy and Management and studies Sustainable International Development and Conflict Resolution. Before graduating from American University in Washington D.C., he worked for Save the Children creating and running international development projects. Recently, Tyler returned to the US from living abroad in the Republic of North Macedonia, where he served as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years. Tyler is an avid numismatist and for over a decade has cultivated a deep interest in pre-modern and ancient coinage from around the world. He is a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA).